Living Dead in Denmark Debuts at Boise's Red Room 

HomeGrown Theatre tackles zombies, kung-fu and Shakespeare

What do zombies, ninjas and Shakespeare have in common? Find out at Living Dead in Denmark.

Richae Swanbeck

What do zombies, ninjas and Shakespeare have in common? Find out at Living Dead in Denmark.

In a snow-covered, barren wasteland, the still of the night air is broken by loud cries and heavy breathing. Three of Shakespeare's leading ladies--Ophelia, Lady Macbeth and Juliet--face off against a horde of the undead. One zombie hunches over and dramatically clutches a sword protruding from his chest, then falls the ground. Rock music and gunshots blare as more zombies fall at the hands of the heroines.

High-octane rock 'n' roll, kung-fu, zombies and ninjas all have a place in the upcoming Boise production of Qui Nguyen's Living Dead in Denmark.

"The story is a kind of sequel to Hamlet," said director Chad Shohet. "We follow Ophelia, who has been resurrected from the dead and learns that everything has been destroyed by these zombies. She teams up with Lady Macbeth and Juliet to take out the zombie lord."

Living Dead in Denmark, which opens Thursday, Jan. 17 at The Red Room, is produced by HomeGrown Theatre, a Boise-based theater organization striving to bring a new breed of stage production to the Treasure Valley.

"[Nguyen's] whole philosophy is to make theater for nerds or [take] nontheatrical genres and put those onstage," Shohet said. "A lot of his work features things you don't typically see onstage and that looks impossible."

By producing contemporary works and utilizing local talent, HomeGrown hopes to attract a new, younger demographic of Boise theater-goers.

"We focus on local artists. We don't bring any talent in from outside, and we really place a lot of emphasis on utilizing all sorts of artists, no matter what level they're at," said Janessa White, HomeGrown's artistic director. "A real strength about this particular production is that there are over 30 people involved. They're all local people. We're really utilizing young artists in the valley that are actually really good at what they do. They just don't have the opportunity or the avenue to express that in a public performance."

HomeGrown's goal is to make theater "cool and accessible." Living Dead in Denmark is the company's second play staged at the Red Room, following A Horrific Puppet Affair in October. That production featured two locally written adult-themed puppet shows, followed by live sets from local bands.

"The last time, it was a diverse crowd. There were people that I've never seen at the Red Room--some of them older, very typical theater people. But over half the people who came were definitely the typical rock 'n' roll, there-to-see-some-music crowd, and they really got into the show," said Wes Malvini, booker at the Red Room. "It's hard to say from one show, but I would say they're definitely reaching a very diverse audience."

HomeGrown's other previous two productions--The Basement Company and Veronica Livingstone, I Presume (the latter written by Boise Weekly's Josh Gross)--were staged at the Linen Building.

Creating the post-apocalyptic world and massive waves of attacking zombies in the Red Room's tiny performance space seemed impossible with traditional set design. Instead, HomeGrown decided to use a rear-projection screen to create an expansive world outside the confines of the stage.

"Typically, the background in a stage production is a big painting or some elaborate scene that implies this extension. With that rear projection, we can, in effect, create a virtual extension of the stage that's like a breathing world," said Cody Gittings, a projection designer for the play. "In one sequence, zombies are entering from stage left and stage right and the three lead characters are slaying the zombies, and then they also turn to the rear stage and shoot at the screen, and we have the zombies react in the sequence we've shot. There's a live interaction, plus this virtual interaction that all occurs at the same time. It's a really interesting way to watch a play, because it helps it be more dynamic."

The projection also allows film-like special effects to infiltrate the production.

"There's this interesting combination of live-action with hand-drawn animation with those video-game-like Mortal Kombat versus screens popping up with a blaring soundtrack as the two characters face off onstage," Gittings said. "It's a mixed-media event that I don't even know I would call a theater production anymore. It's kind of transcended that into some weird world where film-meets-stage-production-meets-animation."

According to White, a projected set brings something new to Boise's theater scene.

"We're working on something I've never seen in Boise before," White said. "I think the biggest thing this projection is doing is it extends the post-apocalyptic world beyond the stage so we're not just limited to the props and scenery in the physical realm."

The end result is a spectacle worthy of a stage much larger than the Red Room's. But HomeGrown hopes the bar vibe will add to the world Shohet and his team have created.

"We're utilizing spectacle in this show in a way I feel isn't actually done a lot in theater," Shohet said. "Ninety percent of the time when I see a huge spectacle done in plays, I feel like it's used in a really gimmicky way, in a way that doesn't expand the story or put pressure on the play. We're using spectacle to expand the world."

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